I can’t remember exactly how it was that I first came across Femi Kayode; though suffice it to say it was when I was down something of a literary rabbit hole on Twitter. I subsequently read about his award-winning debut, The Lightseekers, and – after ordering myself a copy – asked him if he’d like to take part in my Desert Island Books series. There’s not a single book on his list of eight that I don’t adore the sound of, and – having already read three of them – I can’t wait to work my way through the remaining five. From a poetry collection to an epic crime fiction, read on to find out which eight books Femi would take with him to the sandy shores of a desert island.
A Little Life by Hanna Yanagihara
A good book doesn’t leave you the way it met you. This book tore me apart on many levels and I emerged from the experience of reading it feeling like I have been put through a rollercoaster. The prose is exquisite and transcendental. The story is heartbreaking and told with compassion. It is the one book I wish I could write but know I can’t. The next best thing is to carry it almost everywhere with me; reading bits and pieces, treasuring every word, observation and insight on the human condition.
A Son of the Circus by John Irving
This was one of the most heartbreakingly funny books I ever read. I love all John Irving’s books but this is my absolute favorite because you can feel he had fun writing this book. On desert island, it will be very easy to imagine myself laughing out loud, sobbing and soaking in the moments of profound reflections that the story demands. For character and setting, few books beat this in my opinion.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This book’s gorgeous prose shot it to my list of favorite books. I bought several copies of it and gifted people. I have an autographed copy that I guard jealously. I’d take this to a desert island to soak in Ms Bulawayo’s simple, yet lyrical prose about a young girl growing up in troubled Zimbabwe. I love this book because it presents a very complex history and present in simple, very accessible prose.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
It’s toss-up between this book and The Secret History (by the same author). I chose The Goldfinch because it is superb prose that combines deliciously with the tropes of crime fiction. I love the book so much that I am in the minority of people who also love the movie. The adventures of Boris and Theo may be considered a tad self-indulgent to some, but for me, Ms Tartt’s love for the written word shines through in her rendering of these imperfect (and ultimately human) heroes.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I confess: I have not read any of this author’s books. I came across Brian Jenkins’ screen adaptation of The Underground Railroad and swore I will read every single one of the writer’s works. I have succeeded in buying his last three books (The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys and the new Harlem Shuffle) just recently. So, if I get stranded on a desert island, I will be tucking into The Underground Railroad with great excitement, grateful for the opportunity to reduce my sky high to TBR pile without distraction.
Razorblade Tears by S. A Crosby
It was the premise of this book that drew me to it. Two fathers — one White and the other Black — set out on a quest to avenge the murder of their gay sons who were a couple. But it was Crosby sharp incisive prose that kept me reading through the night. When I grow up, I want to be S.A Crosby – not just for his rapid-fire prose, but for the courage and sensitivity which he handles very difficult themes.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
The sheer size of this book makes it the perfect companion on a deserted island. At over 900 pages, it delivers a tour de force of a crime novel that has Bombay, India at its heart. It’s also one of those books that defy the concept of ‘spoilers’. It is rich, textured, multilayered and beautifully executed. If there is a great Indian novel, I really think this would be it. I’d take it with me to study, in the peace and tranquility of the island, the interweaving of themes, unforgettable characters and the merging of great crime fiction with writing of huge literary merit.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
This is a collection of poems on fatherhood, queerness, trauma and so much more. I am generally in awe of poets, but Jericho Brown’s work earns my respect for its accessibility while lifting the written word to a level that is close to sacred. It’s one of my first encounters with poetry that opens worlds, tells stories that ends with twists/surprises that demands that you set the book aside for a while and just breathe, think and send showers of blessings to the universe for gifting this generation with Jericho Brown. On a desert Island, I will treasure each poem in this collection; read one a day, stretch out my enjoyment like a hoarder of sweets, and let each word settle on my lips as I read out loud.
Then, I will close my eyes, and let each poem usher me into what I am sure will be gorgeous dreams.
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